ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It has been four months since the U.S. military began its surge of troops in Baghdad. At first, sectarian violence dropped considerably as the reinforcements spread out in the city. Shiite militias loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr disappeared from the streets. But Sunni insurgent bombings of Shiite targets continued. And now, the Shiite militias are back in many neighborhoods.
NPR's Anne Garrels joins us now from Baghdad. And Anne, you've reported yesterday on a neighborhood of southwest Baghdad and what it's like for U.S. troops there. Tell us about the neighborhood that you were in, which I gather was a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood. Is it still a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood?
ANNE GARRELS: Barely. Most of the Sunnis have left, and now the Shiite militias are there in force clearing out the few remaining Sunni enclaves left. Let me give you an example. Yesterday, militiamen with national police standing right nearby, detained 16 men in a sweep at an illegal checkpoint. Now, given the fact that Shiite militiamen are predominant in this area, most Sunnis now have fake IDs identifying them as Shiites.
So, the militias have gotten smarter, they took this 16 men to a safe house, they asked them the names of the 12 Shiite imams. That's sort of like asking Catholics the names of the popes. They made them pray to make sure they knew how to pray as a Shiite, as opposed to the way Sunnis pray. And if they still weren't satisfied, they took out their cell phones, they checked who they had called. And off the 16 only three were released, and according to an eyewitness I've spoken to, 13 including many elderly men were badly beaten and many, if not all, were ultimately shot.
SIEGEL: Now, you reported last night on the program that an American battalion commander put a video camera at a spot where his convoys have repeatedly been hit. And the video showed that Iraqi police were the one's who are planting the roadside bombs. Does that happen a lot?
GARRELS: Well, certainly more than U.S. troops would like. After my report yesterday, another roadside bomb exploded as an American convoy approached. The troops were stunned but not injured, and they were furious and scared. The roadside bomb went off about 200-feet from an Iraqi police checkpoint with a clear view of the bombsite.
When the American convoy was hit, American soldiers scrambled out of their vehicles, they ran to the police with whom they're supposed to be working, and several eyewitnesses I've spoken to say, some policemen ran away, the Americans detained three. They put them in plastic handcuffs, they put bags over their head, they laid them on the ground. And according to eyewitnesses, they beat them pretty badly, because they'd almost killed the American troops.
SIEGEL: And the point is - you're not saying that the Iraqi police simply failed to take the bomb away from a position 200-feet away from their checkpoint. The Americans figured they put it there?
GARRELS: If they didn't put it there, they certainly allowed it to be put there.
SIEGEL: Events like that are taking place in populist neighborhoods, I gather. What do the people who live there and see all this make of it?
GARRELS: They sure have pulled off in all different directions. I mean, the people I spoke to, basically sympathize to some extent with the national police. They say they're terrorized by the militiamen who rule the area. AI know of at least one family there who's so now desperate to leave this area. I mean, this family hates the militiamen, but basically has no faith in the Americans to protect them.
SIEGEL: Anne Garrels in Baghdad. Take care and thanks.
GARRELS: Thank you.
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